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Saltwater Lessons in Customer Service

Scuba diving (c) Naomi Karten

Clues about how to succeed in providing superior service are everywhere. On a fun-in-the-sun trip, I learned more than my fair share. My husband and I had been scuba diving only once before, ten years earlier, but Tom, our instructor, wasnít concerned. As the boat headed in the direction of Nothing But Water, he said heíd tell us everything we needed to know Ė and he did.

In 30 seconds, he mentioned 47 different things to remember when youíre 40 feet beneath the surface. To check your oxygen level, do this. If you feel pressure in your ears, do that. If your mask fills up with water . . . Your mask fills up with water? But Tom was too busy racing through his list to ask if we were absorbing his high-speed instructions. When he finished, he said, "Itís easy; thereís nothing to it."

I wasnít sure I agreed. The regulator kept slipping out of my mouth and I knew that if that happened underwater, I could swallow the ocean and drown. I asked Tom about it, and he pointed to the two flanges in the mouthpiece that youíre supposed to clamp down on with your back teeth. Do that and the regulator stay in just fine. Just a minor detail, I suppose. I clamped down so hard that my jaw hurt the next day.

While heading to the site of our second dive, Tom said something about staying close to the bottom during this dive because of pockets of fresh water turbulence that can propel you toward the surface. He didnít stress this point, though, or caution us to keep it in mind, or suggest that it could be important.

So it was a shock when I got caught in one of those pockets of turbulence and was suddenly and rapidly propelled to the surface, where I got caught in a whirlpool and couldnít catch my breath. Tom emerged from the depths, rescued me, and said, "Now do you see what I mean by staying close to the bottom?" Indeed, yes!

Unaccustomed as we are to leaving well enough alone, we rented a two-person speedboat the next day. This tiny boat reached incredible speeds, and we wondered about the risk of being tossed out and getting chopped up by the motor blades. So we went back to shore to find out. "Oh," said the rental manager, "didnít I tell you about the safety switch?"

Safety switch? What safety switch? Landlubbers that we are, we hadnít even noticed the loop on the life jacket that you attach to the safety switch on the front panel of the boat. Then, if youíre hurled from the boat, the loop yanks on the switch, turning off the motor and stopping the boat before youíre chopped into shark food. Just another minor detail.

Then there was parasailing. To parasail, you pay an outrageous fee that entitles you to spend 10 minutes in midair, seated in a harness thatís attached to a speedboat down below and a parachute up above. I asked the attendant, "Is this thing safe?" He said, "Absolutely!" as he handed us a release form to sign, relieving him of responsibility for all the things that could go wrong while we were up in the air being safe. Is there any chance of landing in the water? "None," replied the attendant, as he gave us life jackets to wear in case we landed in the water.

What did I learn on this trip about delivering superior service? Lots: Donít assume people will understand how to do something if they havenít tried it themselves. When something is critical, say so. Conscientiously encourage questions. Never say, "Itís easy, thereís nothing to it." Avoid giving mixed messages. Repeat important information. Pay attention to minor details. Be especially careful not to overlook the obvious. Especially careful. Your customersí survival may depend on it.

Text and graphics copyright © 2009 Karten Associates. +1-781-986-8148,


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Karten Associates
Randolph, Mass., USA
Phone: +1-781-986-8148
Fax: +1-781-394-0530